How Chennai girl Vidhya Iyer wrote her way to Hollywood

Express News Service
When Vidhya Iyer was 17 and living in Chennai, she daydreamed of a career in showbiz. She knew she was good at writing. By the time she was out of school, she had known what she wanted to do – write comedy for television.

However, at that time, she thought it was absurd to even contemplate a career in entertainment. She followed her peers into computer engineering college. But some dreams, however absurd, do come true.  Currently working in entertainment capital Los Angeles, Iyer has Hulu’s animated comedy Solar Opposites, Apple TV’s Little Voice and Disney’s Mira: Royal Detective to prove it.  

While in college, she reached out to people in the industry. Heeding their advice, film school appeared to be a good first step. “I wrote my first script and applied to the top five film schools,” she says.

She was accepted by AFI in Los Angeles, from where she started her film journey.  Currently working on Season 3 of Solar Opposites, Iyer admits playing the footlights game is not easy. “The industry is extremely competitive and tough,” says the writer, who does Improv comedy, which helps in her writing.

But writing comedy is not her only forte. She co-wrote a short film, Raksha, with Jhanvi Motla in 2017. It is about a woman who has been told that she is cursed. Raksha has been screened at over 15 film festivals and received the Best International Short Film Award at the Delhi International Film Festival 2017.

She has also co-written Kanya with director Apoorva Satish about a girl with dreams of becoming a swimmer, and how the onset of her first period affects her aspirations. The film had its European premiere at The Raindance Film Festival 2020. 

How does her cultural identity weigh in on her work? “Personally, I feel the anxiety of bearing the burden of representing my community and culture as a whole in everything I write. It is a pressure I put on myself because I know representation and telling authentic Indian stories matters,” she explains.

Working in Mira: Royal Detective gave Iyer the chance to tell authentic Indian stories in a fun fictional world. Season 1 of the series was aired on Disney Junior in March 2020. The plot is based in imaginary Jalpur and represents Indian children and adolescents. It gives children from all over the world a chance to observe Indian festivals such as Holi and Diwali, besides learning about the traditional attires.

In the age of swiping right and left every week, Iyer has been able to maintain a stable relationship. In LA, that is a ‘Herculean task’ she believes, because “in this industry, relationships mirror the business – they’re fleeting and people’s ambitions can give birth to conflict”.

So is LA really the fairyland where one keeps bumping into sunglass-sporting celebs? Iyer laughs, “While running into Hollywood celebrities is pretty common, I get starstruck by writers instead – Josh Bycel (Happy Endings, Scrubs) and Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty),” she adds.

Iyer’s story is important because it mirrors that of many Indians finding a space of their own in Hollywood too. A Chennai girl just did.